Tag Archives: chess book guide

Holiday Gifts for Chessplayers

Last year I posted a three-part guide to holiday gifts for the chess player or aficionado in your life. Most all of what was written there still stands, so before I mention a few newer items of note, I refer you to those three posts. I also encourage you to check out my complete list of reviews.

2013 Buying Guide #1: Clocks and Chess Interfaces (Note – ChessBase 13 is now available)
2013 Buying Guide #2: Databases and Engines (Note – the discussion of engines is slightly out of date; see this for updated information)
2013 Buying Guide #3: Chess books

Here are a few new thoughts on the swag you might buy for your beloved chess fan. Some (but not all) of what I mention has been reviewed here already; if it has been reviewed, I will link to the review in question.

For the serious player (or the player who wants to get serious):

ChessBase is indispensable. It is expensive, but it’s worth it, and your player will be over the moon upon receiving this. You can order from Amazon (available from Prime sellers) or download directly from chessbase.com if time is of the essence.

If they have ChessBase already, perhaps they need a new engine to use in it! You might also consider getting them Jon Edwards’ lovely (and useful) book on getting the most out of ChessBase.

For the improving player:

Don’t let the length of Arthur van de Oudeweetering’s name trouble you. His new book from NIC, Improve Your Chess Pattern Recognition, is a great (and pronounceable) read on positional ‘priyomes’ or patterns. Most of the book started as columns in the defunct ChessVibes Magazine, and those columns were just brilliant. I expect the book (still waiting on a review copy) will be no different.

Pete Tamburro’s Openings for Amateurs is really good for young players and players rated below 1800. It is good with explaining ideas but also contains enough analysis to form a coherent repertoire.

The 4th edition of Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual is out, and it’s the gold standard for one-volume endgame books. It’s a serious book for serious students, but I can’t think of a more useful book for someone who really wants to improve.

The Stappenmethode series of books is, in my opinion, the best training system available.

For the openings theoretician:

Two recent books from Quality Chess are stellar:

1.d4 players will appreciate any of Alexei Kornev’s three volumes on closed openings. I’ve spent some time with the third volume, devoted to the Nimzo-Indian and other lines, and I’ve found the analysis to be solid and understandable for non-masters.

Those with limited time for opening study and those looking for a very solid response to 1.e4 will like Hannes Langrock’s French Defense: the Solid Rubinstein Variation.

For the historian:

Andy Soltis has written a number of really important historical works, but for a long time they were only available in expensive hardcover format. Now McFarland has begun printing some of those titles in paperback. Two of them are worth consideration: Frank Marshall, United States Chess Champion, and Soviet Chess 1917-1991. I found the latter to be indispensible when I was reading and reviewing Soltis’ new book on Mikhail Botvinnik, which itself won the 2014 Chess Journalists of America Book of the Year award.

Jimmy Adams’ books have long been out of print and hard to find. His book on Johannes Zukertort, one of his best, has been reset and reprinted by New in Chess. There are lots of exciting attacking games in these pages.

For the chess fan:

Judit Polgar retired from competitive chess this year, but before she did, she left us with a gift. The three volumes of Judit Polgar Teaches Chess are luminous! They cover the entirety of her career, and while the books are structured by topic and theme instead of in a strictly linear fashion, there is a lot of color and personal reminiscence to complement the games and analysis. These are very personal works, and I think they’ll stand up against the best autobiographical works in the history of chess literature.

Bent Larsen’s Best Games makes the games of the Great Dane available once more to an English-speaking audience.

A ‘fan’ or a ‘historian’ would appreciate Mark Dvoretsky’s latest book, For Friends and Colleagues: Profession: Chess Coach. I reviewed this for the January 2015 issue of Chess Life, and while I can’t break the publishing embargo, let’s just say that the review was positive.

My best wishes to my readers for the holiday season!

Chess Holiday Buying Guide: Part III (Books!)

Now we get to the books.  (Yay!)  Because you may be buying for a few different types of person, I’m going to break my recommendations into four main groups.  Note that each recommendation is accompanied by a very brief synopsis or note, and not with a full review.  I’d never get anything else done today if I were to strive for more than that!

Also: as a general rule, avoid buying any self-published Kindle books by authors you’ve never heard of.  They might be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

For the young beginning player

  • Chess For Children: How to Play the World’s Most Popular Board Game ($12.20ish at Amazon) is a lovely introduction to the game, replete with fun illustrations and solid instruction.  The authors are a Kiwi Grandmaster and his wife.
  • That same Grandmaster, Murray Chandler, also wrote How to Beat Your Dad at Chess ($12.71ish at Amazon).  This book focuses on checkmating patterns, and every player – including adults of all ratings – would do well to memorize the 50 patterns here.  True beginners might not be best served by this book, but it’s great for those who have played a bit and really want to beat Dad (or Mom, or Grandma).  Chandler is also the author of Chess Tactics for Kids ($15ish at Amazon) which outlines 50 key tactical patterns.
  • Susan Polgar’s dvd Learn Chess the Easy Way – Chess for Absolute Beginners ($19.95ish at Amazon) is a whimsical entry into the world of chess.  She uses computer animation and some silly characters to bring the rudiments of chess to life on the screen.  I’ve the first couple of chapters when leading workshops on chess for the Boy Scouts and at a chess camp, and the kids alternately enjoy the animation and groan when it gets a little much.
  • An older child – or an adult – will find Fred Wilson’s Simple Attacking Plans ($12ish at Amazon) to be of great value.  Wilson analyzes 37 games from players of a range of abilities, showing standard attacking themes and thrilling tactical thunderbolts.  I’ve played through the games in this book and found them very instructive, even at my relatively advanced level.
  • If you’re looking for a book to use to teach your child chess, Chess is Child’s Play: Teaching Techniques that Work ($16ish at Amazon) is a tested, systematic approach.
  • If your child was born with a mouse in her hand, there is the Fritz & Chesster trilogy ($20ish at Amazon) of learning programs from Chessbase.
  • Finally, having seen how obsessed children can be with tablets, the Dinosaur Chess app in the Apple Store is absolutely amazing.  I know anecdotally about two children who have used the app and adore it.

For the adult beginning player

  • John Nunn’s Learn Chess ($10ish at Amazon) is a no-nonsense primer.  Grandmaster Nunn is a reliable author, and most anything he writes will be a worthwhile purchase.
  • Chess for the Gifted and Busy ($16ish at Amazon) won’t quite get you all the way to expert, as the title suggests, but GM Lev Alburt and Al Lawrence have put together a book chock-full of instruction.  It’s dense, and it might move a little too quickly for some, but the work is overflowing with chess wisdom.
  • I’ve always thought that Chess Openings for Kids ($14ish at Amazon) by IM John Watson and FM Graham Burgess was sadly misnamed, since it’s not just for kids!  This is a well-constructed book that provides the key ideas for fifty opening systems and tabiyas.  Any player looking to expand his understanding of the most opening would find this book helpful.
  • Chess for Rookies ($20ish at Amazon) is another sturdy introduction to the game.  Craig Pritchett covers most all the bases here, and in a reader-friendly way.
  • Tactics are the most important thing for the beginning player to master if they are to improve.  Chandler’s How to Beat Your Dad at Chess and Chess Tactics for Kids, discussed above, are good.  I like John Bain’s Chess Tactics for Students, and I use this book when I teach at chess camps.  John Nunn’s Learn Chess Tactics ($16ish at Amazon) is comprehensive and clear.  Chess Tactics for Champions by Polgar and Truong ($17ish at Amazon) is a cost-effective collection of puzzles for solving.  Finally, Jeff Coakley’s Winning Chess Exercises for Kids  ($24ish at Amazon) is, for me, the best single collection of problems for beginning players of all ages to solve.  I’ve used pages from Coakley’s book with my chess team, and I’ve found the problems to be instructive and the answer key highly educational.

For the player ascending the rating latter

  • I believe that improving players – and particularly young players – should know their chess history.  Most good teachers will tell their pupils that intensive study of the great players of the past is a great way to improve their understanding and chess culture.  It’s for that reason that I think Max Euwe’s The Development of Chess Style (OOP, but lots of copies are available at Amazon) is a really important book for improving players to read.  Euwe shows the historical progression of chess strategy and theory through a few dozen annotated games.  He’s a great writer, and games are a lot of fun to play through.  Learning the theory of chess shouldn’t feel this easy.
  • I also really liked the new edition of Alekhine’s My Best Games of Chess 1908-1937 ($24ish at Amazon) released by Russell Enterprises this year.  Alekhine was a great annotator and his games are always entertaining.  You can read my review of this book if you are so inclined.
  • You can never do enough tactics.  Martin Weteschnik’s Chess Tactics from Scratch ($25ish at Amazon) will show your player how tactics work, while The Complete Chess Workout 2 by Palliser ($24ish at Amazon) will give them plenty of tactical practice.
  • Ivan Sokolov’s Sacrifice and Initiative in Chess ($21ish at Amazon) is an advanced treatise on attack.  It’s amazing, and it’s full of tidbits of attacking wisdom that would take years to acquire on one’s own.  If the person you’re buying for is a serious chess player, this is a fantastic book.
  • Finally, I just reviewed Axel Smith’s Pump Up Your Rating ($20ish at Amazon) and dubbed it the book of the year.  This book provides a full-blown training program for the improving player.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.

For the older tournament player

  • As we age, we have to face facts: we’re not going to (necessarily) be able to keep up with the 12 year old tactical dynamos.  Sometimes adjustments are required.  Two recent books by John Watson – for me, the best chess writer around – can help with that, at least with the openings.  Watson’s Play the French 4 ($23ish at Amazon) and A Strategic Opening Repertoire for White ($19ish at Amazon) are both opening works of the highest standard.  Both books offer fully vetted repertoires with excellent verbal explanation of key ideas.  Watson’s four volume series Mastering the Chess Openings [ volume 1 | volume 2 | volume 3 | volume 4 ] remains the single best resource on opening play in general, and all four volumes are now available in Kindle format.
  • Older players can also outstrip their young opponents through positional play and the endgame.  Bronznik and Terekhin’s Techniques of Positional Play ($21ish at Amazon) is a brilliant look at some of strategic tricks of the trade.  John Nunn’s Understanding Chess Endgames ($19ish at Amazon) is a handy overview of numerous endgame theoretical positions and themes.  Dvoretsky’s Endgame Manual ($26ish) is, of course, a real classic, and Mikhail Shereshevsky’s classic Endgame Strategy ($16ish at Amazon) is the best single introduction to endgame strategy in print.
  • Andy Soltis’ 100 Chess Master Trade Secrets: From Sacrifices to Endgames ($19ish at Amazon for paperback) is available in Kindle format, and will be out in paper in January.  This looks like another of Soltis’ better books, offering 100 ‘priyomes’ or nuggets of chess knowledge in very palatable format.
  • Fans of chess culture will love Hans Ree’s My Chess ($19ish at Amazon) and the new translation of Euwe’s tournament book on the 1948 Hague / Moscow Match Tournament ($19ish at Amazon).  You can read my review of the Ree book hereRussell Enterprises, as an aside, is really doing the chess world a great service by translating and algebratizing some of the treasures of chess literature.  Kudos to them!

I can’t possibly hope to cover all the books out there, but if readers have questions about specific titles, I’d be glad to try and answer them in the comments.